Tale Of The Underdog
By Cheryl Mullen - 11/21/2002 - 10:29 PM EST
Once upon a time, there was a ragtag misfit lot of musically creative types who were collectively known as What I Like About Jew. They lived and dreamed and struggled to make rent and earn a living off their craft in a faraway city known as the Big Apple (or the Big Latke, as they preferred to call it). As diverse as the city itself yet bound by their religious/ethnic/cultural heritage, these Jewsicians would periodically congregate in one of the many music clubs in the city and put on a variety show centered on a certain theme; such as money, sin and redemption, and love gone wrong.
One day, the leaders of this tribe, a couple of guys named Sean and Rob, came upon a great idea for the next What I Like About Jew show. Why not do a modern version of the classic Broadway Jewsical “Fiddler On the Roof”? It could include jazzed-up versions of the show tunes, as well as original tunes by the What I Like About Jew players. A classic event with a new twist—it was sure to be a hit!
And indeed it was. Soon it played to packed houses, and people far and wide began hearing of this funny, new-fangled “Fiddler”. Including, unfortunately, “Fiddler”’s creators. I say “unfortunately” because the creators quickly called their lawyers, who swiftly slapped our beloved Sean and Rob with a sinister “cease and desist” letter.
Now some of you may be thinking, “But the creators have a right to earn a living. They have every right to protect their intellectual property.” And they do. However, they could have tried to support this witty work by working out some sort of a compromise—maybe lending some financial backing and their official good blessings in exchange for a part of the proceeds. And maybe with that kind of support the show could have been successfully transformed into an off-Broadway production, and everyone would have benefitted. But now no one will benefit because instead of trying to work out a compromise, the creators got nasty. And now this delightfully creative piece of entertainment will forever be quashed because some big-time people got greedy.
This is a classic example of what truly and mightily sucks about the entertainment business. It’s so damn hard to get a piece of the pie that the big people instinctively squash the little people like bugs in order to prevent them from getting even a crumb.
It seems to me that the artsy-creative types of this world who are serious about their craft can be divided into two groups: the Big Dogs and the underdogs. The Big Dogs are the people we all know—the ones who are famous, who have their names in lights, their faces on magazine covers, and their private lives played out in the tabloids.
Then there are the underdogs. These are the names and faces you don’t know, even though they might be very talented (and in some cases even more talented than some of the Big Dogs). Now some of the underdogs aspire to be Big Dogs, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with being a Big Dog, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a Big Dog if you truly believe that’s what will make you happy. But many of the underdogs are perfectly happy being underdogs. They pose no threat to the Big Dogs, and they desire nothing more than the opportunity to go out and earn a decent income doing what they love. They just want to make rent and pay their bills and carry on with their peaceful underdog lives.
That’s why I write this column-–to promote the underdogs. The Big Dogs don’t need my promotional help—they’ve got glitzy PR people for that. I write about the underdogs so that you might know of them, go out and buy their stuff, and hopefully help them to live out their humble underdog existence. That’s also why I write about TV shows like “Duets with Deni” and websites like Spinner.com—because they also help to promote the underdog.
And now, I’d like to tell you about another person, an underdog herself, who has gone out of her way to promote other underdogs
Nancy Magarill is an independent singer/songwriter living in NYC who had a flash of inspiration one night thanks to a nasty road trip:
“I was cruising home from a solo gig in Syracuse (opening for one of my favorite artists, Jolie Rickman) when I headed into a dangerously thick fog. Other than the desire to make it home in one piece, I craved two things that night; great windshield wipers and great music. It was a long ride home, I had neither. I started talking to myself (a great new hobby, one I do often, especially when I think I'm about to die) and within moments I was yelling "F--k this, I want label free radio! I'm sick of this sh---y music!".
That was the first hour. The next four, five or six hours I spent thinking about how great the world would be if we had the opportunity to listen to all kinds of music. Yes, there are many DJs who do promote independent artists and those who play music that isn't the hit of the moment (God bless them !!!), but for the most part DJs are playing the music that the record label yahoos want and pay lots of money for us to hear.
I thought about many of my amazingly talented friends, and how if you could hear them, you'd probably flip over them. Then maybe they'd sell enough records to be able to support their careers (without the chaos that often ensues with a major record label…).”
Today Nancy is the webmistress of Label Free Radio, a website that allows unsigned artists to be heard far and wide through the miracle of the internet. Volunteer DJs put together 30-minute “shows” of songs by various unsigned artists, which site viewers can click on and listen to using Real Player or Windows Media Player. The shows are grouped by category—Pop/Rock, Hip-Hop, Jazz, WomanRock, etc. It’s a wonderful way for independent artists to have their voices heard—literally. So go wag your tails over to the site & sniff out some fellow underdogs!
FROM THE “SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION” DEPARTMENT
One day in October, I happened to attend a concert in the city given by a Boston-based a cappella group called All About Buford. They performed at a place called the Joyous Life Energy Center. During the week Joyous Life is a yoga/tai chi/meditation space. But on Saturday nights, it was a performance space as well (normally devoted to improvisational comedy, but somehow on this particular night All About Buford got mixed up in it—which was a good thing for me, as you’ll soon discover).
For some reason, All About Buford wasn’t able to get their sound equipment working, so they ended up having to perform unmiked. As it turned out, they didn’t need any amplification because the acoustics in the room were AMAZING! The room was fairly large (remember, it’s a yoga space during the week), with a wooden floor and a very high ceiling. And the group sounded simply gorgeous.
After the show was over I cornered the owner, Simone, and told her: “You have such a wonderful space. It would be an absolute tragedy if you didn’t book more musical acts to come and perform here.” And Simone responded, “You know, I’ve been thinking about doing that, but I’m really not familiar with a lot of the music acts around here and I wouldn’t know whom to contact.”
Boy, was she talking to the right person! As soon as I got home that night I immediately fired off an email to Simone with a list of local musical acts along with their contact information. Soon afterward Simone invited me out to dinner. She had a proposition for me: In addition to the Saturday improvisational comedy night, she wanted to do a Friday acoustical music night. And she wanted me to be in charge of booking the talent.
So it appears that my years of hanging around in small music clubs have finally paid off, and that my tree of knowledge of phenomenally-talented-yet-toiling-in-obscurity artists will finally come to bear fruit. I am no longer just an enthusiast—I am officially “in the business”! After spending so much time and money supporting little-known musicians by paying my piddly club admission price, I am now in a position to offer them some real work. I am now an underdog officially helping other underdogs!
And if YOU’RE a little-known musician looking for some real work in the NYC area, contact me at the email address at the end of this column and we’ll talk. While I wouldn’t encourage out-of-towners to come all the way to NYC just to play at Joyous Life, it might be something to consider if you’re touring and NYC is on the way.
That’s enough barking for this month. Time for this underdog to go out and mark some territory. Woof!
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